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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 9, 2011 2:00pm-2:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. coming of tonight is john lithgow. he is out with a memoir about his life in acting. it is called "drama. also, tiffany shlain is here with a documentary about our 21st century and lives. it is called "connected." >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or gauck walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy
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and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: i am pleased to have john lithgow on this program. his threat -- his standout career includes emmy awards and two oscar awards and two tonys. he is out with a terrific new memoir, called a "drama," about
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acting. have you been busy? >> i have been busy telling people about this book. i have never done boat tours before. tavis: what do you think of it? kfar >> it is hard work. by have come here to rest. tavis: i will make this easy for you. drama.e why the title, a traum it is a memoir. >> it is in the more about the first half of my life and all of the influences inside and outside of theaters, on stage and off stage in my life that basically turn made to the after the i was when i arrived about age 35. the formative years. i called it a "drama. are things i was almost done with a book by the time i hit on the title.
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it is certainly a nonfiction. it is on as to a fault, this book. but i decided to tell my story -- is honest to a fault, this book. but i decided to tell my story by telling stories. it is like a series of mini dramatists -- dramas with me as the title character. they are all about acting, what i have learned stage by stage. tavis: how ud construct that at 35? -- how do you the construct that, at age 35? >> it was a very important year for me. for one thing, that white wife -- and met my wife. it was a logical intermission.
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if my life was a play, age 35 was my intermission. again, i did not plan in. i had never written anything that long before. before coming here i had written about -- i had written children's books, which were about 27 pages long. i set out early on finding a logical place to wrap up. tavis: something that may have surprised you, but when you are so busy living your life, you do not have time to process your life until you come to this moment. when you have to go back and come face to face with the life you have lived and hopefully the legacy that you have left. what did you learn about a yourself when you were forced to look at yourself?
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>> that is a wonderful question. you do begin to look at the totality of your life and the major influences, and certainly, the crucial moments, the truly formative moments. a lot of triumphs and a lot of agony. you look at those experiences that affected you, and those people. primary among them was my dad. early on, i almost realized that this was -- i realize this was almost a dual biography of me and my father. i gypsy around with my parents. i went to eight different schools in a different towns. -- eight different towns. when you do that, you say, what
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are the important moments, almost as if you are constructing a drama. it begins to get very clear, almost as if there is a shape to it. and a strand that runs most strongly through it is my relationship with my father. i had an extremely intense experience with my dad in 2002 when he was an old man and very ill and i was taking care of him and my mother. he was extremely depressed. he virtually lost the will to live. i realized my main job was cheering him up to save his life. i had on reading bedtime stories to him as he had read bedtime stories to me and my siblings when we were children. he even had a book called " tellers of tales" that he used to tell stories to us.
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i surprised him with this book one night when he was tucked in for sleep. the story he picked was our favorite story from childhood, "uncle fred flips by" by pg woodhouse. i read that story to him and it made him laugh and brought him back to life. over the years as -- after he passed away, that moment began to emerge as an epiphany for me. it began to represent why it is i do what i do for a living, why perform, what performing stories really means to us, what it means to people who watch and listen. and i spun a one-man show, and it made great use of the pg
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woodhouse story, and it also tells the story that i just told you. the one-man show -- the memoirs were right out of the one-man show. it was the first time i had written anything out of my own experience to perform for their people. courage to go ahead and write the book and tell my story. tavis: 11 read the book, to your earlier point, john, -- when one reads the book, to your earlier point, john, it is hard to imagine that you had a choice in life to do anything else. did you have a choice? >> apparently, i did not have a choice. growing up, i did not want to be an actor. i did not want to go into the family business. there was something i wanted to do far more, which was be an artist. but having grown up in a theater family, having done a huge
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amount of acting from a very little boy to progress is teenager -- precocious teenager in shakespeare festivals that my father produced, i went off to college and fell in with the theater gang. i was already an experienced actor. i became a kind of campus star. i heard all of this applause and laughter. it is my theory that if you hear enough applause and laughter at a young enough age, you are doomed. you are going to be an actor. and it was during my college years that i made that choice. tavis: maybe i missed it, but i do not think so. but i do not get the sense that even with the proper subtext, which is one of love and wanting to honor your father, i do not get the sense that you ever felt in competition with your father. there is so much of that in the world today. the subtext is, i want to make
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my father proud, but there's still a sense of competition at work. i do not sense that with you and your father. >> not at all. one of the things that gives me a lot of pleasure, both about the solo show and the book, is that it tells people about my dad. he really was an important gap -- an important man. he was a pioneer of the original theater. he was the first producer to ever produced all of acres shakespeare's plays. -- all of shakespeare's plays. this book has made him far more well-known than his own career did, and that gives me a lot of pleasure. even though my career took off when his was beginning to diminish, he took nothing but pride in what i did. that is almost the strongest
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demonstration of what we meant to each other. it was a complex relationship, which i write about in detail. it goes through a very classic pattern of absolutely idolizing a parent and then discovering that they are not all that you thought they were, and eventually come honoring them and revering them in their old age. -- eventually, honoring them and repairing them in their old age. -- we've hearing them in their old age. tavis: this book tells the journey, have the jury. are there proper elements that you think an actor must be exposed to? are the elements of an education that you think a good actor must be exposed to? >> no, i think there are all
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sorts of ways of turning into a good actor. and our best to varieties of different actors -- there is a vast variety of different actors. become addicts from different directions and it means different things to -- they come at it from different directions and it means different things to different people. i got a wonderful college education. i went to harvard. in those four years i accumulated a lot of knowledge, but i also created a habit of learning that has stayed with me my whole life. simultaneously, i was doing extracurricular acting and directing and designing of all sorts of things, just for the fun of it, for the pure joy of it. it was the first and last time that acting was pure joy. you're not answering to anybody. nobody was worried about your
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reviews. you're not been supervising or teaching anybody. you just loved it. and in the meantime, i was getting this fine education. after that, i went to school in london, england, and went into an extremely resource program. by the time i was 30, 35, i sort of knew who i was as an actor, and i was gradually learning why was as a human being. i always tell that to young people, go to college. you know, do theater, work with an audience. do not try to learn how to act in front of millions and millions of people. do not -- do not make that your first envisioned, to be on a sitcom or get into the movies -- your first ambition, to be on a sitcom or get into the movies.
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learn how to act first. tavis: if this is the first half of your life, and since this no. 35 has come up a few times in this conversation, i come back to it because i recall some years ago when i turned 35 giving a speech. what i talked about in that speech, john, is that for those of us that have any kind of biblical appropriate -- appreciation, we are told that god gives us threescore and 10. that is 70 years. at 35 years of age, you were halfway there. at 35, you had lived half of your life. this book lays out the first half of your life. what is it in the first half that you knew you did not want to repeat in the second half, and what is it about the first half that made you so excited about the second half? is that strange?
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>> no, it is wonderful question. it is a difficult question to answer. tavis: i mean, not everything was perfect in the first half. there had to be something that i want to do this for the rest of my life, but this thing over here, anxious to do this. >> this book tells the beginning of my thirties wear my life kind of fell apart. i grew up with this crazy way of living with always been the new kid in town. not like being a circuit -- a service pratt where you were always -- circus bract where you were always going to other kids who were also new in town. i was always in school with kids who had been together since
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kindergarten. it was tremendously hard for a child to constantly do this. it made me figure out how to be accepted. in a sense, it was wonderful training as an actor, figuring out how to play an audience immediately. it takes its toll, because if you are that intent on being good, you do not really learn who you are. and your very hard on yourself if you are anything less than a good boy. there is a chapter in the book called "the good boy." you do things like postpone adolescence. you postpone those moments in your young life when you really do learn who you are. that all came crashing down on me at about age 32. i transcended. i really do feel those were the years when i learned the most about myself.
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and you ask what i learned, well, i learned my strengths and weaknesses. it is far more important to learn about your witnesses that your strengths. -- weakness says dan your strengths. tavis: i agree. >> and i feel more like an adult since then. tavis: it is fascinating to read and we have barely scratched the surface. it is hard to do justice to live so well lived in 15 minutes. read the book. it is called "drama." you can come talk about yourself here any time. >> thank you, tavis. tavis: up next, filmmaker tiffany shlain. stay with us. tavis: tiffany shlain is the co- founder of the digital academy
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of arts and sciences, the group behind the annual emmy awards. she is the new director of the new film "connected." here are some scenes from the movie. >> people can reproduce and cross pollinate instantaneously, creating new hybrid ideas that can combine perspectives from all over the world, connecting ideas and get as and cultures for millions of brings into a global thinking structure with infinite possibilities. each text, tweet or hyperlink is sent out like a neural cell mapsynapse to everyone you are connected to. and with each connection is like we are creating a global network for oxytocin to flow. tavis: tell me why you think we are connected and why it is important for us to wrestle with
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this issue. >> i think we are moving quicker than we ever have. we are in this human experience, where we have never been more connected before in human history. we have created this central nervous system around the world where you can interact and share information. there is so much potential in that. and personally, it is overtaking so many aspects of our lives. this film hopes to open a conversation -- what is the good? what is the bad? what is the hope? it is a way to talk about what it all means and how we want to move forward. tavis: you are taking a conversation in the direction i wanted to go, which is, what the good, the bad, and the hope is. what is the good of all this connectivity? >> we have access to so many more ideas than we have ever had. people have access to information and you can find
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community in new ways, stay connected to family members aren't around the world, stay connected to people and ideas. and they have shown throughout history that innovation happens when you have different perspectives bumping up against each other. we have this global framework for that. that is the good. that is that we are on line 24/7. when we were making the film, i did something that affected me deeply. i unplug every friday night for 24 hours. i forgot what it was like to be present and be alone with my thoughts and not be able to act on every single thought i have had. that is what i would say i would be concerned about, just being present to my deep thinking, being present with the people you love. >> and i hope -- tavis: and in
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the hope? >> i think we will enter this time of collaboration that we have never been in before. i still feel like we are in this social space with the web, and we are just at the edge with these tools that we will parade where we could hopefully tackle some of the biggest problems of our day, the environment, poverty, economic situations. if we can come together from different perspectives, i think we have the potential to innovate in ways we cannot even imagine. tavis: since you are one of the persons in the group behind bringing us the webby awards, which honors things on the web, was what is out there on the -- what is out there on the web that you think is deserving of honor? >> i ran the awards of four sons
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and a 10 years, but now i make films full-time. the scientists in washington had been trying to solve this folly of a protein to solve and get a cure for aids. they put it up on the web and online gamers' were able to solve it instantly. tavis: your point about collaboration. >> exactly. if we can take that to the cause next level, we can take humanity to the next level, if we direct it that way. and everything we talk about, you can talk about three good things about it and three goobad things about it. we should talk about privacy and things that people are worried about, because that is part of the conversation, too. but let's also talk about the hope.
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technology is just an extension of us. people talk about it as it is this a separate thing. we could not see far enough, so we build the telescope. we build computers and our brains are connecting. we build all of this stuff. it is good, bad, and let's focus on the potential of all the stuff. we have the hope of making the world better, instead of it taking over our lives. tavis: it may be at the epicenter of how we move into the future, how well we innovate. hot what is your sense of how well we are -- what is your sense of how well we are innovating these days? >> it was such a zeitgeist moment when steve jobs and died. i think we felt something collectively, which the internet
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also allow us to feel that. but going back to innovation, where we can innovate is problem-solving. my husband is a professor at berkeley and he was just talking about the concept of brainstorming. how do we brainstorm collectively? he is working on a lot of tools for that area. all of these ideas are move tic -- mutating and crossing of against each other with the internet. how do we take back to the next level? that area excited me. this is my eighth film, but i have never had a film done when the internet has been so alive. people are out of the theater and they go on to our facebook page and a post articles and have this extended conversation out there on the web.
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it is a way for film makers to extend ideas about these issues. tavis: you are scratching the surface on a fascinating conversation, innovation, technology, and how connected we are and what that does for the future of humanity -- or not, as it were. as tiffany would say, the good, the bat, the hope. her new movie is called "connected." that is our show for tonight. i will see you next time on pbs. until then, good night and thank you for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with historian of third niall ferguson, plus an actress kirsten dunst. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where
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walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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